The president’s budget released this week proposes billions in critical new federal investments for 2016 and beyond to improve the life chances of millions of poor children. It also would prevent more harmful budget cuts in cost effective child investments while providing essential new investments to decrease the morally indefensible number of poor children (14.7 million, 6.5 million of them extremely poor) desperately in need of hope and help.
So many children have lost ground as the trumped-up fear of excessive debt children did not cause. That has been used by some in Congress to cut safety net programs we know work. For example, the indiscriminate and unjust sequestration guillotine cut 57,000 children from Head Start and 100,000 low-income households from critical rent assistance. Yet, Congress did nothing to curb hugely unfair tax loopholes disproportionately benefitting powerful and wealthy corporations and individual. Members of Congress in both parties must now join the president to help our nation move forward by protecting and investing in America’s neediest children.
The president’s budget proposal includes major increased investments in the critical early childhood years of rapid brain development that help prevent poverty. The most significant of the president’s new child investments would add $80 billion over 10 years for the Child Care and Development Fund to guarantee child care assistance to all low-income working parents with children under 4. Currently, only 1 in 4 eligible children under 5 receives this crucial assistance. New investments in voluntary home visiting, Early Head Start/Child Care Partnerships, Head Start, and Pre-School for All grants (totaling $75 billion over 10 years) for low income 4-year-olds will all bolster child readiness for school.
It is hard to find a better investment. Society reaps an $8 return for each dollar invested in high-quality early childhood programs and we cannot afford not to help children and decrease current and future costs. Members of Congress should put politics aside and build on the important 2014 bipartisan reauthorization of the Child Care and Development Block Grant to help ensure states implement the quality improvements that legislation requires and enable more children to benefit.
There’s much other good news for children in the president’s budget that all Americans and all members of Congress should strongly support:
• Four more years of funding for the successful bipartisan Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to ensure 8 million children in working families will continue to have access to high-quality, affordable, and effective child health coverage. If Congress takes no action, CHIP funding will run out this fall;
• A $1 billion boost for Title I education funding for poor children – a critical program children living in areas of concentrated poverty desperately need. Title I must include strong accountability measures to make sure poor and vulnerable children truly benefit;
• Funding to make permanent key improvements in the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC) scheduled to expire at the end of 2017. These two tax credits lifted 5 million children out of poverty in 2013. Making these improvements permanent would prevent one million children falling into poverty and 6.7 million falling deeper into poverty;
• New help for abused and neglected children and children in foster care including $1.4 billion over 10 years in new guaranteed funding for preventive services to help keep children safely in families and out of costlier foster care, promote family-based care for children with behavioral and mental health needs, and help American Indian children removed from families remain in their communities and;
• An additional $1.8 billion for rental assistance for low-income families and youths aging out of foster care, including $512 million for restoring 67,000 housing choice vouchers lost from sequestration.
The president’s forward looking budget pays for his critical proposed new investments to alleviate child poverty and reverse harmful unjust cuts by eliminating egregious tax loopholes benefitting powerful corporations and the super-wealthy and other spending inefficiencies. Additionally, the president’s balanced approach would generate more than $1 trillion in deficit reduction over the next decade according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. However, his laudable increased child investments still would not recoup lost funding for non-defense, non-entitlement programs which would still remain 15 percent below 2010 levels when adjusting for inflation and population growth.
As Congress considers budget legislation in the coming weeks, I hope they will stop hurting and start helping our most vulnerable children. The president’s proposed new measures are giant steps towards cutting child poverty. The Children’s Defense Fund’s recent report Ending Child Poverty Now shows we can cut child poverty 60 percent – and Black child poverty 72 percent – immediately by investing just 2 percent more of the federal budget in existing programs that work, including the EITC, the CTC, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), housing subsidies, child care subsidies, and subsidized jobs.
Children really do have only one childhood and it is right now. Protecting precious child lives and America’s future demands that we act immediately and move forward, not backwards.
Marian Wright Edelman is president of the Children’s Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to www.childrensdefense.org.